Sunday, February 21, 2010

Week #2-- From John Wren. (Please post your thoughts as a comment below.)

This week:

*Read the Week #2 readings: The Political Precinct and The Political Campaign (click here, print)
*If you haven't already join the "I'm a fan of the Colorado Caucuses" Facebook group. (click here)
*Read the John Skipper "talk" about the Iowa Caucus, the post your comments and questions.
*MOST IMPORTANT: See "What have you learned? Who are your leaders? What's going on?" below. Ask the suggested questions of your party leaders , then share what you find out as a comment by next Monday.

John Skipper is a career newspaperman who has covered presidential politics in Iowa for 25 years. His book Iowa Caucuses: First Test of Presidential Aspirations, 1972-2008 is not only fun to read it provides lots of insights into the process. In my opinion it should be on the bookshelf of every American who is concerned about the effects of big money and big power in politics and strengthen the best tool for fighting power and money, the grassroots neighborhood caucus-assembly system. It's my pleasure to introduce my friend John Skipper. Please hold your applause. :)

Good morning from Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation test for potential presidents of the United States, the Iowa caucuses. My purpose here today is not to pressure, persuade or exert some self-imposed sense of influence on you. Rather, I hope to share a few thoughts with you that will inspire a few thoughts of your own that you will be willing to share with others. And before you know it, you'll reach some conclusions that just might have lasting impact.

That, by the way, is a good description of the Iowa caucuses - a forum where well-meaning people gather, share some thoughts, listen to the thoughts of others and reach conclusions with lasting impact. If you don't think that works in Iowa, ask Jimmy Carter about 1976; ask George W. Bush about 2000; ask Barack Obama about 2008.

The national media often questions whether Iowa, a small, agricultural state that is 94 percent Caucasian, is really representative of the rest of the country - and should it be first in the presidential preference primaries and caucuses. My answer to that is that any state that is first would face the same kind of scrutiny. People would ask if Ohio or Michigan were too industrial or if New York or California or Texas were too big or if Colorado was too this or too that - I'll let you fill in that blank.

But here is what caucuses offer, regardless of pecking order. They are the last bastion of grassroots politicking in this country. During the campaigns prior to the caucus, candidates come to woo you. They meet you at your kitchen table or in your school gymnasium or at the fairgrounds. You get to see them, hear them, chat with them, ask them questions and get a feel for how they interact with people and how sincere or phony they are. Sometimes people challenge me on whether this is democracy in action or a republic and my answer to that is, let's not quibble over semantics. Instead, ask yourself how many countries in the world have a system as open as this is.

On caucus night, any eligible voter who wants to participate can come and offer their views about the candidate of their choice. The doctor, the lawyer, the rancher, the housewife, the sewer worker are all on the same playing field and, in this forum, it is a level playing field. Everybody gets their say. And then there's a vote. The presidential races get all the publicity but caucuses serve a lot of other functions. You get to choose who you want representing you at district caucuses, if you have them, and at the state convention. You also have a say on what you think should be in the party platform.

I'll conclude today by telling you a little story about the Iowa caucuses. In 1984, Senator John Glenn, the former astronaut, sought the Democratic presidential nomination. So in 1983, he campaigned in Iowa. He had an out-of-state pollster making phone calls in Iowa to try to find out how much support he had. The pollster, making random phone calls, contacted Mary Grandon, a housewife in Clear Lake, Iowa, a town of about 8,000 people. The pollster asked, "Will you be supporting Senator Glenn?" Mrs. Grandon replied, "I don't know -- I haven't met him yet!"

That's the power of the caucuses; that's the power of the people. I end where I began. Ask Jimmy Carter. Ask George W. Bush. Ask Barack Obama.

Thank you very much.

John C. Skipper has written a book detailing the history of the Iowa Caucuses. It is called "The Iowa Caucuses: First Tests of Presidential Aspirations: 1972-2008." It is available from McFarland publishers, or you can contact John directly at

John also has developed a Facebook page called "Iowa Caucus News" that keeps viewers up to date on events leading up to the 2012 caucuses and has a web page, www.iowacaucusbook,com

Do you have any questions for John about the caucus process? This is a great opportunity to get them answered by someone with years and years of caucus experience in Iowa. Post them here now.
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